The New Miami: Breaking Down the Re-Signing of Kenny Stills & Andre Branch
One trend we saw throughout the 2016 season for the Miami Dolphins was the motto “New Miami.” Each year teams think of catchy slogans to help fans buy in (Remember Clyde Gates and ‘Believe in Miami’).
However, in 2016 you truly did see a New Miami.
The Dolphins had their first six-game winning streak since 2003 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Adam Gase’s retooled offense brought effective new wrinkles to South Florida. Cutting offensive linemen, benching cornerbacks and even running backs: If 2016 taught us anything about the current Dolphins’ coaching staff, it’s that you should always at least stop and wait to see what they’re up to before reaching judgement.
From 2013-2015 the Dolphins loved to make a big splash in free agency. It started with Mike Wallace, then Branden Albert, and finally Ndamukung Suh. None of the signings worked, as Miami’s only substantial wins came during March. Last offseason was different; in the new Miami, the team signed a few free agents on the cheep side to fill out their roster and their frugality paid off.
The new Miami culture is focused on paying guys that want to play in Miami. It seems that the front office isn’t focused on following the open market, but instead focusing on their own team. Players are already buying into the culture.
Andre Branch: 3 years, $27 Million
11 starts was enough to show the Miami front office how good Andre Branch can be. The 27-year-old out of Clemson recorded five and a half sacks to go along with 49 tackles in his first year with the Dolphins.
Branch was originally signed to back up Mario Williams, but it only took five weeks for Adam Gase to put him in the starting lineup.
The first thing Branch brought to the Dolphins was some muscle to go with Cameron Wake’s finesse. While this will not go into the box score for Branch, he was the catalyst behind the incomplete pass above: Utilizing a bull rush, he knocks Philip Rivers off target for a huge third-down stop.
While Branch struggled against the run at times, the play above is an example of his ability to step up in that area. Here, he demonstrates his ability against one of the league’s shiftiest backs.
On the play above, Branch does it again; however, this time he blows up the play in the backfield to open up overtime.
The Dolphins value speed on defense, and the play above shows an instance in which they subbed Branch in for a quicker, more dynamic presence inside. He responded very well to shifts during various sets used by Miami.
However, there were some missed opportunities through out the season.
While catching the ball isn’t exactly his primary job, Branch should’ve been able to hold on to the pass above.
Branch also doesn’t always make the right read. Here we see Kaepernick get nine yards on a keeper because of Branch collapsing on the edge. While Branch and Wake are a nice duo, the Dolphins still need to add another defense end and plan to do so.
Early reports say that the Dolphins are still going to focus on adding another defensive end early in the draft. Miami is likely going to end up spending close to $17 million on defense ends, which makes sense given that it is a premiere position.
Even if the Dolphins do use a high pick on another defensive end, Branch offers flexibility in speed packages. It is extremely possible that the Dolphins will have three defensive ends on the field on passing downs in 2017. Even with his high price tag, Gase & Co. could end up using Branch as a rotational piece next year.
Kenny Stills: 4 years, $32 million
Re-signing Stills was a no-brainer for the Dolphins. Miami had a loaded receiving core last season, they’ll now get to see the group grow together. Stills averaged a little less than three receptions a game in 2016, but made them all count. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception to go along with a career-high nine touchdowns.
After a mediocre first season in Miami, Stills became one of Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets in Adam Gase’s system.
Stills gave the Dolphins offense the opportunity to score a touchdown on any play. When methodically working the ball down the field there is always a chance of something going wrong. However, the play above is an example of what dink-and-dunk can set up: a chance to simply go 45 yards in one play. Tannehill shows great chemistry with stills and hits him for the TD.
Stills also showed exceptional ability to read and react to the ball, as seen below. The biggest flaw with Mike Wallace was that he had only one speed, meaning that a quarterback had to throw a perfect pass for there to be a completion. Stills on the other hand has the ability to track the ball and slow down, or readjust, if he needs to.
Stills’ ability as a deep threat became lethal when his chemistry with Ryan Tannehill reached a high point last year.
Adam Gase also has an exceptional group of plays to utilize Stills. The play below, with an outstanding fake, demonstrates that:
Stills gives Miami more than just speed, and the plays above do an outstanding job of showing it. His ability to adjust to the ball and avoid defenders can’t be denied.
With Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker also on the field, it is hard to double-team Stills. As a result, he was often one missed tackle away from a touchdown. This is what we see against the Patriots in the play above. Stills runs a perfect route for a simple pitch-and-catch touchdown.
It’s now official: Kenny Stills and Andre Branch aren’t going anywhere. While the team still has plenty of work to do this offseason, it’s clear that “The New Miami” is growing into more than just a catch phrase. Hopefully, it can become a way of life as the Dolphins continue their resurgence, constructing a winning culture in South Florida.